Athlete or Player?

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At some point in the past, it occurred to me that for a coach to describe his charges as ‘athletes’ was actually a very 2 dimensional description of them.  The ‘athletic’ component of volleyball seemed, and seems, to me to be only one of qualities of a successful volleyballer and to use the term ‘athlete’ devalues those other components.  By emphasing the ‘athlete’, the ‘player’ is undervalued.  And so I have always used the ‘player’ description.

Gold Medal Squared posted some time back on that very topic (kind of).  They quote an article that shows that in the NFL (a multibillion dollar business) as many as a third of players on team rosters are NOT drafted.  That is, with all their resources and using every kind of measurements they are remarkably inept at deciding who will be be a good player.   They make the point that, like football, volleyball is a ‘visual motor game’. and that “what players read and interpret is almost more important than how they move.”  They recommend keeping development groups large to provide as many people as possible the opportunity to develop those visual and motor skills.

I think there is something in that.



  1. Agreed that development groups should remain large. Only problem being a lot of the development coaches I see aren’t particularly good at working with large group (or delegating to other coaches).

    I used to say “player” a lot more and at some point started to say “athlete” more. i think it makes them take themselves more seriously and reminds me that i ignore the athletic component too much.

    When i think of “players” i think of people with unhealthy characteristics who play sport.

    The other bias might be medieval. A latin-based word always sounds better than its germanic counterpart.


    1. The point with the large groups is that the decisive factor in volleyball success is the playing component, with takes the longest time to develop. Therefore as few players as possible should be excluded.


  2. I coach 10-18 year old girls, when generically referring to them I alternate, randomly, between calling them players, athletes, volleyball players, teammates, Starlings (our club name) or ladies, depending on who I am talking to. I prefer (in order) – volleyball players, teammates, Starlings or ladies.

    The one thing I NEVER call them is a position on the court. i.e. “In the last game our libero…” instead I say things like “in the last game the girl playing libero …”

    As for developmental group sizes – my club’s motto is “Giving all girls a chance to fly.” So no one is stopped from trying to play. When I started coaching middle school, I told the principal I wanted her to enact a school policy of – 1) no tryouts – we let any girl who wants to play be on a team, 2) every girl will play. If I had my way, being on the volleyball team would be required for every girl in the middle school. But I haven’t convinced them to go that far yet.

    It is a small parochial school in a small town, but I have personally over several years watched many girls who during their first year of middle school volleyball appeared to be “hopeless” – over the next couple years grow into being some of the best volleyball players in town.


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